Now Is It Over?

Cole HamelsThe Phillies have been run through the gauntlet and lived to tell about it. Injury after injury, and bad luck that would make a professional poker player weep (somewhere, Phil Hellmuth is weeping).

It wasn’t enough for the baseball gods to take our most valuable position player from us. They had to take our most valuable pitcher away from us now, as well.

Yes, Cole Hamels is the latest Phillies casualty, succumbing to a mild left elbow strain. According to the Phillies’ website, “A worst-case scenario has the young hurler missing up to three weeks.”

Without Hamels, the starting rotation includes a 44-year-old who passed his prime during the Clinton administration (Jamie Moyer), a right-hander with two months of Major League experience and an extremely low strikeout rate (Kyle Kendrick), the dictionary definition of average (Kyle Lohse), a right-hander that was passed over by three other teams before he was picked out of the dumpster by the Phillies (J.D. Durbin), and now, a question mark (?) should the Phillies feel the need to move along with a five-man rotation.

According to Michael Radano,

Hamels will miss at least two starts because he’s getting an MRI on his mild strained left medial elbow. According to Hamels its at least that long due to the dye that will be injected and he won’t be able to picth. Retro to Aug 17 means he can’t come off the DL until Sept. 2. [SIC]

And, as much as ColeHamelsFacts declares otherwise, Cole cannot pitch equally as effective with his right hand.

At this point, they may as well give some of the Minor League talent a try.

  • J.A. Happ: Has pitched at least six innings in his last five starts, and has allowed no more than three runs in those starts (including two consecutive shutout appearances of six and two-thirds and seven innings).
  • Carlos Carrasco: Threw a six-inning no-hitter on Tuesday. He’s had a few shaky outings recently, but he’s the best pitcher in the Phillies’ Minor League system and it might benefit both parties to give him some Major League experience.
  • Zack Segovia: He’s pitched well for the most part since the beginning of July. He’s pitched at least six innings in six of his last eight outings, averaging an allowance of three runs in each one.
  • Josh Outman: Pitched eight shutout innings on Monday, allowing only four hits, but he did walk five. Prior to that start, he had only pitched past the fifth inning once in his previous four starts, and seems to struggle with control. Nevertheless, he is a left-hander, and left-handers can always find a job at the Major League level.

Other than that, the Phillies really don’t have many options available.

  • They could trade for garbage by scrounging the waiver wires, but it wouldn’t be worth it.
  • Brett Myers won’t be moved back into the rotation.
  • It’s unlikely they will mimic last season’s desperation when they made lifetime relief pitcher Aaron Fultz make a spot start against the Blue Jays.
  • Freddy Garcia still needs three or four rehab starts, according to Rotoworld.

It’s just one more unfortunate situation the Phillies find themselves in, and it couldn’t have happened to a more important player on the Phillies’ roster. They will have to once again walk through the muck and try to survive these next two weeks and hope that the return of Chase Utley and Shane Victorino are adequate reinforcements.

Phillies Need Patience with Utley

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley hasn’t played in a game since July 27, when his fourth metacarpal bone in his right hand was broken by a pitch from Washington Nationals left-hander John Lannan.

Yesterday, Utley was given clearance by his doctors to resume swinging a bat, and he hopes to find himself in the Phillies’ lineup as early as August 27, when the Phillies begin a crucial four-game series with the New York Mets at home.

Prior to his injury, Utley was arguably the National League’s leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player award, as he led or was near the top in many offensive categories including VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), EQA (Equivalent Average), and ESPN’s Player Ratings. In fact, he is still among the leaders in those categories despite having missed nearly a month — he ranks 5th in VORP, 6th in EQA, and 11th in ESPN’s Player Ratings currently. Add to that his impeccable defense — highest Zone Rating among NL second basemen — as well.

Getting Utley back should be a huge boost for the Phillies, although the offense hasn’t really skipped a beat in his absence (5.5 runs per game in the 22 games he’s missed, going 13-9 in that span). However, the Phillies should not rush Utley back in a desperate attempt to gain as much ground in the NL East and Wild Card races as possible.

If Phillies organization is looking for guidance, they should look at Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs. Lee had two bones in his hand broken in a collision with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal last season on April 19. He didn’t return until June 25 — about two months and a week of missed time.

Lee hit only 5 homeruns the rest of the season (36 games). He missed time from July 24 to August 28 with problems stemming from his injured wrist, likely due to the Cubs rushing him back. Lee said of his injury problems,

It’s just a situation where it isn’t getting better. I was kind of just playing for the sake of playing. I wasn’t helping anybody. So if you’re not helping the team, you’re not helping yourself. (ESPN)

Lee’s line after his initial injury, but before the injury flared up again:

.326 OBP/.320 SLG (1 HR) in 20 games

Lee’s line after the injury flared up, until the end of the season:

.350 OBP/.571 SLG (4 HR) in 16 games

If the Cubs had just been patient with Lee’s recovery, they would have saved themselves (and Lee) a lot of aggravation and probably could have had someone more productive in Lee’s spot.

The Phillies can learn from this. If they don’t see that Utley has returned 100% (they should be observing Utley with a high-intensity magnifying glass every time he picks up a bat or throws a ball), he should not be taken off of the disabled list until mid-September at the earliest (they begin a 3-game series with the Mets at Shea Stadium on September 14).

There is no question that there is a mountain of pressure on the Phillies organization, on manager Charlie Manuel, and on the players (especially the longer-tenured ones like Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell) to at least make the playoffs. But they should not attempt to do so at the expense of the health of one of the best overall players in baseball, and the face of the Phillies franchise.

The Phillies’ front office thought he was valuable enough to pay him $85 million over the next 7 seasons, so he is valuable enough to recuperate at a steady pace.

Here’s hoping he turns out just fine.